Virginia Judge: “more humane” to allow condemned man to present evidence of innocence

May 17, 2012

Image of a prison cell window with bars

A judge in the final appeal hearing of Ivan Teleguz, who is facing the death penalty in Virginia despite key witnesses having renounced their testimony against him, has said it would be “more humane” to allow him to present evidence of his innocence.

State prosecutors have argued that a strict interpretation of criminal procedural rules prevent Mr Teleguz – a Ukrainian – from presenting strong new evidence that he is innocent. Mr Teleguz was sentenced to death on the basis of the claims that he had hired men to kill his girlfriend.

However, the prosecution’s two key witnesses, on which its case was built, have since admitted that they lied after being pressured by the authorities into doing so in exchange for a lesser sentence for their own crimes.

Judge Wynn, of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, said at yesterday’s hearing that it would be “more humane” to allow Mr Teleguz the chance to present evidence of innocence. This view appeared to be at odds with the Senior Assistant Attorney General for Virginia, who argued that evidence of actual innocence could not be enough to save Mr Teleguz. She maintained that the evidence could not be considered unless it came directly from a particular constitutional violation. Because the witness recantations were not the product of a constitutional violation, they were irrelevant, she argued.

Meanwhile, Judge Davis noted that at least one error in the case – Teleguz’s own trial lawyer introducing evidence of a murder blamed on Teleguz even though the evidence now shows conclusively that no such murder ever occurred – “jumps off the page” for him. He said that the fact Teleguz’s own lawyer did that, “grabs me and I can’t let go.”

Sophie Walker, Death Penalty Team Director at Reprieve, said: “Judge Wynn is right – executing an innocent man without even giving him the chance to present new evidence would be deeply inhumane. The prosecutor’s claim that new evidence of innocence is simply irrelevant will strike any normal person as cruelly absurd. An innocent man’s life hangs in the balance. Ivan Teleguz must not be sent to the death chamber for a crime he did not commit, simply to satisfy an inflexible procedural rules.”


1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 427 1082 / or see:

2. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70 prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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